Posted on April 07, 2016
Team America’s Fund member Sergeant Jorge Jimenez is a remarkable athlete. His bragging rights include medals from competing in half-marathons, full marathons and ironman competitions. He has 19 medals acknowledging his efforts in Triathlon and 1 USA National Championship Triathlon Olympic Distance Age Group.
Oh, and speaking of medals: He also has three Purple Hearts.
“I’m 6-foot, super fit,” Jorge says. “People are like, ‘Wounded? Where?’ I don’t look wounded unless you see the scars. If you see my MRI, it’s like, ‘Dude, how do you do what you do?’”
Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jorge enlisted in the Army in 2004 at the age of 24 after teaching PE class for a year and a half to high school students in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, where he was also a high school coach. A natural athlete, Jorge considers beach volleyball his strongest sport and also enjoys surfing.
In July 2006, Jorge deployed as part of 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 130th Engineer Battalion with the 169th Engineer Group of the First Cavalry Division to Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq. His primary job was to sweep and clear roads in order to allow friendly forces freedom of movement . This consisted of looking for and neutralizing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) along with providing force protection for coalition units. He had been on over 100 counter-IED task force missions which covered over 5,000 kilometers of roads within the Multinational Division-Baghdad Area of Operation. During his tenure on the deployment, over 30 IEDs were found and disposed of.
“My battalion was one of the units that was there for 14 months,” he explains. “The first day of my first mission, three hours after we left base…three men down, three friends. I’ll never forget that day.”
“We’d go out on a mission for two or three days in a row,” Jorge continues. “We’d come back, shower, and go back out again. It’s a mentally difficult job. Physically difficult, too—temperatures could be in the 120 or 130 degree range, we’re carrying all the gear full barrel, robots (Talon), and other equipment. Sometimes we were working under ambush fire and stress situations all the time. The longest time I was under fire was close to 45 minutes.”
Jorge’s first Purple Heart was earned conducting road clearance. “I was in a husky vehicle with a mine detector under it. I was the only one in it. I found an IED, marked it, reported it, and as I started to back out, the trigger detonated and the bomb blew up below my truck. I remember the radio calling for me, but I couldn’t answer. Then I passed out. When I woke up I was on my way to the hospital. I had internal bleeding and a compressed vertebra L5 and degenerate disc between L4 and L5. I was taking pain medication all day long, but after 10 days, I went back.”
His second Purple Heart was earned in a similar situation: Jorge was in a vehicle that encountered an IED and it hit my truck to the side. “I was standing at the gunner hatch and half of my body was out when the IED hit. Everything happened in slow motion and I saw all the blast and fragmentation come to me and then I was unconscious. I received minor burns and fragmentation. If I was still sitting at the gunner hatch, I would have lost my leg. Some fragmentation hit between my knee and my thigh. That was a wow.”
Jorge was in recovery for 12 days after and was told by his Battle Commander that he wouldn’t be allowed to return to the field. “That made me mad. I was assigned as an instructor to Castle Iron Claw Academy in Camp Liberty Baghdad to teach updates on IED encounters and mines and also about mine detector vehicles. After 2 months, the Battalion Commander went on leave, so I went to my First Sergeant and asked to go back out.”
“Five days before the Commander came back from leave, I found an IED,” Jorge recalls. “We parked next to the IED and there were a lot of people in the alley, kids playing, and a concrete block in the middle of the road. Meanwhile, we were getting ready to do a disposal. I was in a buffalo vehicle at the time and everything happened so fast. After we got hit, gunfire started. I hit the window inside my truck and lost consciousness for a few seconds and then popped the hatch and fired back. That was an adrenaline reaction and then I passed out. That was my third Purple Heart.”
Jorge had internal bleeding but was able to walk—with difficulty—after spending two weeks recovering in Germany. But the bruises on his forehead worried doctors, who sent him to Texas, where he spent a year and a half being treated for head and brain injuries, damage to his spine and his leg and PTSD.
“I deal with pain every day,” Jorge explains. “Recovery from a triathlon sometimes takes a few days. It’s really tough, but I need to always do the right kind of training, I can do a half ironman and my recovery will be about one or two days. But cutting grass or washing my car, I hurt for days.”
While competing at an ironman competition in Georgia, Jorge met a member of Team Semper Fi who suggested he join the team. That started a relationship with America’s Fund in which Jorge, whose wife is currently deployed, has been receiving assistance so that his parents can stay with him and help care for him while his wife is away from home. “My parents just have Social Security, so the money helps greatly.”
“America’s Fund is an amazing foundation that is always looking after our needs,” he continues. “They are really all about helping.”
For all the daily pain he continues to endure, though, Jorge—who is studying at Columbus State University for Exercise Science—feels his biggest challenge these days is mental, not physical.
“I need to get that college degree. I need to get the licenses for the exercise science program. Because of my memory, it’s a challenge. I take tutoring three times a week. It’s my biggest challenge, but I will accomplish it.”
“I want to help others when I get my degree. This field requires a lot of knowledge and experience, so someone like me, I can inspire others, help pull them out from wherever they’re stuck. Through exercise, you can keep going, help meet your goals in life, keep you mentally and physically good.”